We were overjoyed to recently spot an article written by Catherine McMaster (2009) in The Australian. We caught up with her to hear more about her life as a freelance journalist and her reflections of her time at CCGS.
What have you been up to since leaving CCGS?
After I left CCGS, I took a gap year. I was adamant that I didn’t want to transition from one institution to another, and consequently I became an au pair and an English school teacher in the north of Italy.
Rather naively but nevertheless emphatically, I arrived in Italy with no knowledge of the language, no contacts (bar the family I worked for) and no real in-depth understanding of the complexities of the culture. It was a challenging but incredibly amazing year. By the end, I could speak the language, dance the rhumba, made some life-long Italian friends and came away with some very, very happy memories.
I began my Media and Communications degree course at Sydney University immediately upon my return. I was fortunate to receive a part-scholarship to live at the Women’s College, and fully embraced this opportunity. I resumed my passion for hockey and softball. Ironically, some of the girls I had played against as a CCGS student, were now part of the college team. The ‘Barker’ girls were no longer my most formidable opponents but became some of my dearest friends.
After university, I was awarded a scholarship to study a MA in Multimedia Journalism at the University of Westminster in London. Aware of the expense that living in London would entail, I continued but increased my working hours to a fulltime Student Ambassador for Sydney University and as a stylist for Giorgio Armani in the hope of self-funding my impending trip to London.
Surviving financially in London continued to present a major challenge. The result was an eclectic mix of jobs, really anything I could get my hands on – a waitress at the Queen’s Club Polo, an oven seller for Miele, a shop assistant at Hermes in Bond Street plus even a spell working for Tiffany’s.
I decided to remain in London after graduating and I freelanced at The Telegraph before transitioning into a more permanent position as Editor at two London fashion houses. Based in a studio in North London, I am still part of this enterprise. Ever the curious and enthusiastic writer, however, I continue to write for Harper’s Bazaar, Vice, News.com.au, The Australian, The Telegraph UK and The Times UK.
Now that you live abroad. Where is home?
I have a really strong emotional affiliation with Australia and more specifically, the Central Coast.
This was confirmed after a recent 3-week break following a 2-year hiatus. It’s interesting, because my childhood experience and schooling stands in stark contrast with that of my colleagues and friends in London. I was recalling my schooling days and they were so surprised to learn that I went to the same institution from aged 5-18. They assumed it would be so boring and mundane – how wrong they were!
Admittedly, CGGS was a huge part of my life and childhood, and I really couldn’t have asked for a greater place to grow up, or a better school to have attended.
What is your writing process and what do you write about?
Ever since I was a child, I have kept a journal. Observing, listening and writing – I have always been incredibly sensitive to my environment.
There is something cathartic in writing it down. As a desperately homesick teenager alone in a foreign country during my gap year; keeping a journal was an emotional liberator. Additionally, it’s made for wonderful material that I can return to later in life!
I am constantly writing, whether it’s commissioned or not. I have a website (catherinemcmaster.co.uk) and two online magazines (snapshotfromsomewhere.com/ aliteraturereview.wordpress.com). Exposure, specifically online, is vital. Moreover, the only way to ever improve as a writer, is to continuously write.
I often have various ideas floating around in my head, whether it’s a personal piece or a feature. If I need to secure an interview for the material, I will email or call the person directly. Additionally, I will research and secure some leads, and then begin the writing process.
Since I was a student, I produce copious amounts of drafts before I have a finalised article. This self-evaluation has always been ingrained within me and I consider myself my harshest critic.
I like to write alone, with maybe some muted classical tunes in the background. I speak out loud to myself, which helps me to understand if my work flows. This helps, as often a personal feature is conversational by nature.
If the piece hasn’t been commissioned, I will then try and pitch it. Whether a publication takes it or not, it goes up online, often on my online travel website (snapshotfromsomewhere.com). I get so much satisfaction knowing that people read my work. Whether its critique or praise – it’s very rewarding to see that people do engage with my work.
Who do you write for? What do you enjoy writing about?
I am a fashion editor and freelance journalist. As a freelancer, I write for various publications. Consequently, as a fashion editor, I write for fashion brands. This can include ‘how-to’ style stories, the history of fashion and a critique of the fashion week shows.
Freelance work allows for more scope. I could be writing anything; hard news, profile, column, feature or op-ed. I studied these different mediums of writing, so to be able to practice this craft is incredibly fulfilling. Additionally, for a curious person by trade, it feeds my creativity!
One of my favourite pieces of work that I have published is my personal feature for The Australian. It’s my work in its rawest and purest form, namely, because it details my own experiences and struggles. As a writer, there is something so utterly satisfying about being able to write from such a personal perspective. Achieving publication for this piece was a professional highlight.
Another developing area of interest has been the connection between human, social and cultural issues and a link to the performing and visual arts. My thesis for my master’s encapsulated this, by exploring the relationship between the arts and mental health. Specifically, I researched the relationship between visual and performing art education within the British prison system and the strong connection that it established to various individuals and groups incarcerated for a considerable sentence.
This was an insightful, albeit emotionally challenging piece of work. I spoke to several inmates, and one particular character who had been recently released. He had formed his own underground artistic network, and subsequently utilises his experiences as a former inmate to capture and demonstrate his artistry.
These kind of investigative features, which took months of preparation, planning and interviewing, is something I really enjoy.
Favourite memory of CCGS?
I must reiterate, CCGS was such an integral part of my childhood. It’s a place punctuated with many happy memories and pinpointing just one is quite hard. As I have travelled and met many people along the way, I have come to realise just how lucky I am to have attended such a committed, fun and diverse school.
My last few years of school were exceptionally special, not least because we were coming to an end. The pressure mounts and yet I had teachers who were extremely supportive and caring. When I think of all the extra hours of time spent on feedback during the lead up to the HSC, I will forever be grateful for such dedication and commitment.
I have an abundance of special co-curricular memories through years of involvement in school sport and drama productions. Aforementioned, I was a passionate hockey and softball player at uni but this was initially fostered at CCGS. I have so many memories that include long bus rides, early morning training sessions, final games but especially the ambiance between staff and teams of all different grades. What fun we had!
I recently came back to the Central Coast after a 2-year sabbatical. Admittedly, I only returned home for 3-weeks, but took the chance to come back to the school once more. It was amazing to see how much the space had changed. In fact, I was overwhelmed by the change, specifically the Performing Arts Centre. Such an incredible place to be able to perform and embrace all the elements of theatre.
I live in a city of 8 million people, and it’s a busy and frantic place. The Central Coast is a great tonic and a place of rejuvenation. Coming home gave me a chance to unwind and unravel a few things before returning to London and my quest to continue in journalism.
However, the home ties are strong and at heart, I remain a Central Coast girl.